Fundraising for Small Groups Newsletter

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December 16, 2018

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But I Don't Know Anyone Who Has Money

From the book: Big Gifts for Small Groups

by Andy Robinson

Almost a decade ago, after several positions with a variety of grassroots groups, I left a steady job to start a consulting practice.

Financially speaking, I leapt into the void. My wife was working at the time, finishing up a long career as a Montessori preschool teacher - another highly paid profession. The two of us, working full-time, had a combined income of about $35,000, which I guess landed us somewhere in the middle class.

We gave away money: $25 to one group, $50 to another, sometimes as much as $100. At the end of the year I added up our donations and discovered we had contributed a total of $2,500. That startled me. I added the numbers twice, because I didn't believe it.

Apparently we were "major donors."

Let me tell you about our lives. We lived with our daughter in a tiny rented house; a sweet and comfy home, but less than one thousand square feet. Many of my trousers were (and are) frayed, because I hate to go shopping. I drove a 1981 Toyota with 200,000 miles and no air conditioning - in Tucson, Arizona. If you saw me in that car, the last thing you would have said is, "There goes a major donor!"

I'm happy to report that business is good. I now earn about twice what my wife and I used to earn together, which has made it possible for her to stop working. We have a policy of tithing, or giving away 10 percent of our earnings. In a recent year, this totaled about $7,500 in charitable donations distributed among nearly one hundred groups.

Until a few years ago, when we abandoned the desert for the woods of Vermont, I continued to drive my hard-working (and very warm) Toyota because, among other reasons, I wanted to prove a point. There's only one way to figure out how much money individuals can give you - and it's not what they drive, not where they live, not what they wear. You don't have access to your neighbor's bank statement, right? The only way to find out how much someone can give you is to ask.

In my ongoing campaign to demystify fundraising, I tell a lot of groups about my income, car, house, giving, and so on, and it generates some interesting responses.

One man stood up and talked about his grandfather, a farmer in North Dakota. "He lives pretty simply," he said, "but I know he supports his favorite organizations. If my grandfather knew that people were sitting across town saying, 'We can't ask Pete for money. He's too poor. Look at his tractor,' it would make him crazy. He would say, 'Have you studied my checkbook? Have you looked at my bank account? How dare you make that decision for me.'"

So let's keep this simple. Fundraising boils down to two jobs:

  • The asker - that's you - asks for the gift.
  • The decider says, "Yes, I choose to give," or "No, I'm sorry, I choose not to give."

Do not confuse these two jobs. Don't make decisions for other people based on your extremely limited knowledge of their finances. Don't screen them in or out based on rumor, hearsay, or the condition of their automobiles.

You may have seen a story in the New York Times that profiled the work of two philanthropists: Ted Turner (you know who he is) and Oseola McCarty, an African-American woman from Mississippi. She made her living as a domestic worker, taking in laundry.

When she reached her eighties, she donated her life savings - $150,000! - to create a scholarship fund for black students at the local university. "I can't do everything," she said, "but I can do something to help somebody. And what I can do, I will do. I wish I could do more."

When you hear "major donor" and "philanthropist," you probably don't think of people like Oseola McCarty, and that's too bad. For every story like hers featured in the news media, hundreds of thousands remain untold.

Remember, 70 percent of American families donate to nonprofits. You're surrounded by philanthropists. Knowing people who have money is irrelevant; the question is, do you know people who give money?

Of course you do. And you won't know how much they can give until you ask.

Reprinted, with permission from Emerson & Church, Publishers. All rights reserved. To order, call 508-359-0019 or visit Single copies are $24.95; quantity discounts are available.


Editor's Note: A big thank you to the publishers for allowing us to reprint a chapter from Andy Robinson's book, Big Gifts for Small Groups. Here's a little bit more about the book from the publishers.


Big Gifts for Small Groups
A Board Member's 1-Hour Guide to Securing gifts of $500 to $5,000

By Andy Robinson, 112 pages, softcover book

If yours is among the tens of thousands of organizations for whom six- and seven-figure gifts are unattainable, then Andy Robinson's new book, Big Gifts for Small Groups, is just the ticket for you and your board.

The subtitle, A Board Member's 1-Hour Guide to Securing Gifts of $500 to $5,000 says it all.

Robinson is the straightest of shooters - a sort of John McCain of fundraising. There literally isn't one piece of advice in this book that's glib or inauthentic. It has all been earned.

As a result of Robinson's 'no bull' style, board members will take immediately to Big Gifts for Small Groups, confident the author isn't slinging unrealistic bromides.

They'll learn everything they need to know from this one-hour read: how to get ready for the campaign, who to approach, where to find them; where to conduct the meeting, what to bring with you, how to ask, how to make it easy for the donor to give, what to do once you have the commitment - even how to convey your thanks in a memorable way.

Believing that other books already focus on higher sum gifts, the author smartly targets a range that has been neglected: $500 to $5,000. Why? Here's what Robinson says:

  • They're large enough to justify the time it takes to develop a prospect list, prepare a letter, follow up with a phone call and visit the prospective donor.
  • They're small enough to include a wide range of prospects.
  • They're both modest enough to seem feasible to the novice, but also ambitious enough to make it worth their while.
  • Taken in the context of a major gifts campaign, with a team of solicitors working together, gifts of $500 to $5,000 can add up to a lot of money.

Robinson has a penchant for good writing and for using exactly the right example or anecdote to illustrate his point. But more importantly he lets his no-nonsense personality shine through. The result being that by the end of the book, your board members just may turn to one another and say, "Hey, we can do this" - and genuinely mean it.

About the Author

Andy Robison is the author of Grassroots Grants: An Activist's Guide to Grantseeking, and Selling Social Change (Without Selling Out): Earned Income Strategies for Nonprofits, both of which are published by John Wiley and Sons. As a trainer and consultant, Robinson has assisted nonprofits in 40 states and Canada, leading workshops on fundraising, grantseeking, board development, strategic planning, marketing, leadership development, and earned income strategies.

About the Publishers

Emerson and Church, Publishers, specializes in 'how-to' books for those wanting to strengthen organizations in their communities. Visit for titles that address Annual Giving, Board Development, Direct Response, Funding Strategies, Grantseeking, Major Gifts, Nonprofit Management, Planned Giving, Special Events, Volunteers, and others of interest to nonprofits.

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